Bottom line: Jesus advises us to make the best of a difficult situation - like the dishonest steward did.
I would like to begin by telling you about a video that inspired thousands of people. Maybe you saw it. The video shows a young man playing a guitar for Pope John Paul II when he visited Los Angeles. This man is very different kind of guitar player. He has no arms, yet he uses his toes to make marvelous music. The young man's name is Tony Melendez. When his mom was pregnant with Tony, she took a prescription drug called thalidomide. It caused her son to be born without arms. Tony's mom was devastated, but she was not defeated. She put an enormous amount of energy into her son and he responded by developing a wonderful talent for music. Tony and his mom made the best of a very difficult situation.
Today's Gospel tells about a man who also found himself in a difficult situation. Unlike Tony, it was completely his own fault. He had been cheating, cooking the books and his supervisor decided to do an audit. Well, the books were not the only thing that was cooked. The dishonest steward was finished. But instead of attempting to flee, he acted decisively. He used his remaining opportunities to win some friends. Now, we need to understand that in Jesus' day a steward had more latitude than someone in middle management today. The steward had to show a profit, but he could also use the administration of his master's resources to procure personal benefits. For example, he could raise or lower an interest rate - as long as he brought in earnings for his master. Anyway, what is clear is that the master praises him for his adroitness. And he advises us to also use money so that the poor will welcome us into eternal life.
The dishonest steward acted boldly - and so should we. A lot of times people tell me they feel stymied and powerless - either because of something someone else has done or because they have made a mess of things. Or they simply feel that life has dealt a losing hand. When I encounter someone who is frustrated, I try to give them the advice that Mother Teresa gave her sisters when they felt down. She would tell them, "Get out with the people." I've been a priest for thirty-five years and I can guarantee you that no matter how bad you feel about your life, there is someone close-by who is worse off than you. The dishonest steward didn't curl up into a ball. He acted decisively.
The dishonest steward reminds us of something that is deep in our Catholic tradition. Back in the fourth century St. John Chrysostom said: "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs." The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes this statement of St. John Chrysotom in its section on "Love for the Poor." The Catechism reminds us that when we give to the poor we should not think we are doing something "noble" and "kind." The Catechism does not use the "charity" to speak about sharing with the poor. It uses the word "justice." What we have does not ultimately belong to us. We are administrators - stewards of God's gifts. Like the dishonest steward, when we give to the poor, we are assuring that someone will welcome us into eternal life.
Now, I don't recommend that you give all your money to the first guy standing at stoplight. Jesus praised the dishonest steward because of his "prudence." I know this is going to sound self-serving, but it really isn't: the most prudent thing we can do is to give the first five percent of our income to our parish. The parish, after all, provides the most basic services: the celebration of the sacraments and religious education. After you have set aside a part of your earnings for the support of your parish, the next five percent can then go to other charitable needs, like the Missions, Catholic schools, Catholic radio and pro-life organizations such as Birthright. In that way you will fulfill the Biblical norm of tithing, giving the first ten percent to the Lord. Of course, we should never think, "Well, I gave my tithe. The rest I can use as I please." No, it all belongs to God. We are stewards of his gifts.
When it comes to stewardship of God's gifts, a lot of people feel inadequate. I know how you feel because I am also inadequate. But do not let that feeling prevent you from giving all you have got. Be like Tony Melendez or like the steward in today's Gospel. Make the best of a difficult situation. Jesus assures us that if we are trustworthy with small things, he will give us greater responsibilities. He will give us what we need to be good and prudent stewards.
From Archives (25th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Ominous Number of Donors, Fulcrum, John XXIII Mass at Holy Family)